published Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Tennessee Vols expecting fun for fans in spring game

IF YOU GO

• Admission and parking for Tennessee's Orange and White game are both free.

• Fan Day, where Vols coach Butch Jones and players will sign autographs on the field inside Neyland Stadium, will be from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Fans are limited to one item per person and can enter through Gate 7 at the stadium.

• Gates for the game open at 1:30 p.m., and fans can enter through Gates 4, 6, 9, 10, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21 and 23. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.

• Activites at the Vol Village adjacent to Gate 21 of Neyland Stadium begin at 10 a.m.

• Most of the major parking garages (G-10, Lake Avenue, 11th Street, White Avenue) and lots near Thompson-Boling Arena and Circle Park will be open to the public, and shuttles also will run from the Ag Campus.

• The game will not be televised, so listen to the broadcast of the game on 106.5 FM or follow Times Free Press writer Patrick Brown on Twitter at www.twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp and stay tuned to timesfreepress.com for live updates.

KNOXVILLE — In his first spring game as Tennessee's football coach last April, Butch Jones doubled between his role as a coach and ringmaster for a circus.

His first showcase as the leader of the Volunteers featured an in-house deejay booth, fans picking plays for the offense to run, dozens of former players and an announced crowd of more than 60,000.

With a year under his belt at Tennessee and a young team featuring a lot of spring game debutants, what will Jones have on tap for today's Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium?

"We're about to have fun out there," Vols linebacker A.J. Johnson said following Thursday's practice. "We're real excited. It's probably going to be a great turnout, because we've got great fans, so it's probably going to be way more than last year.

"We had a good time last year in the spring game, and we're going to have to make it an even better time this year."

Much like last year's edition, today's spring game will feature the offense and defense facing off with a modified scoring system that will reward the defense for turnovers and stops. The first half of the game will consist of two 12-minute quarters, followed by two quarters with a 10-minute running clock.

Mixed among the scrimmage series will be various one-on-one matchups of receivers against defensive backs or offensive versus defensive linemen, and Jones said he'll add some of what he calls "circle of life" -- a staple of practice in which two players are called out by name to square off in the middle of a circle of their teammates -- at midfield.

"You want them to see your best day," offensive guard Dylan Wiesman said. "It's the big stage. It's Neyland. It's everything you dream of, so you're going out there and playing with everything you've got, like 'Hey Coach, this is me, this is my identity, put it on film, watch it and see what I can do.'"

While many eyes in the stands will be on the quarterbacks or any one of a handful of newcomers, it's also a chance for Tennessee's rebuilding lines to showcase who's stepping into bigger roles.

"It's definitely going to be a test to see who's picked it up during the spring," said defensive lineman Jordan Williams. "We don't have a lot of starters or a lot of experience on either line. It's going to be a real test."

It's also going to be a showcase, because Jones wouldn't have it any other way.

Former Tennessee quarterback Sterling Henton likely will be back handling the in-house music. A large number of former players, most of the 2014 signing class not already on campus and a handful of recruits will be attending the game.

New to this year's spring game is a 7-on-7 flag football game between former players at halftime. The game will have an MVP, and that former player will receive a trophy that's nearly 14 feet tall.

Seriously.

"Why? Because we're Tennessee," Jones said after Tuesday's practice.

Of course, the scrimmage also will be a key evaluation tool for the coaching staff. The new-look regime was on display last year, but this year most of the new involves the team. Newcomers are everywhere on offense, and Tennessee is replacing both its lines.

"A lot of times you just want to get through the spring game," Jones said. "For us, being so young as we are, and the growth and development that needs to occur, Saturday is a big, big day for us. It's very, very important in the continuing evolution of this football team and our football program and our entire group identity."

Jones said forging an identity of team that plays with extra effort, physical style and discipline has been a primary goal of the spring, and he acknowledged it's been a grind physically and mentally for the players since they returned from spring break three weeks ago.

That apparently was so much the case that he canceled the light practice scheduled for Friday afternoon.

"We made sure it was a grind," Jones said. "Really, for me, this is the first stage. It's born in January and February and the months in the weight room with Dave Lawson and Mike Szerzen and our strength [program]. But really, your football identity is really born in the spring, and we wanted to make sure that they understand the toughness that it takes.

"We all know we're going to be exceptionally young. We're going to lose if we just go talent for talent. We're not going to be the best team on the field, but that's OK. We've won championships with not having the best collection of talent. It's the best teams that win."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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